Tag Archives: life cycle

Little Girl Ghost in House

SR: Okay, so like I went to Virginia and then, like I think I was 7 but um it was a two story house. I was sleeping and I woke up because I was thirsty and I didn’t know where everything was because it was my second day there. The only light that was there was like a Christmas tree light, so I went downstairs to go get water as I was getting water I noticed my cousin was following me and I was like, “oh, do you want some water” and she kind of like nodded. I drank my water and put my cut back in the sink and then I went upstairs and then I saw my cousin go into the part downstairs. They had two living rooms and she went into the smaller living room and I was like that’s weird but whatever. So I went back upstairs and my cousin was like in her bed and I was like that is so weird. The next day, it was so funny, the next day my grandma was talking about this little girl they see often and then they are like, “oh yeah , she is like always around here. She looks like Stephanie.” Stephanie is my cousin. 

CA: She looks like your cousin that is still alive?

SR: Yeah 

CA: Why do you think there is a girl there?

SR: I don’t know, I think honestly maybe she died in the house. In Virginia their backyards are basically open land and it’s like foresty. Maybe she like died somewhere there and her body is still around. It was crazy my grandma told me she would forget that the girls were at school and she will see the girl and then offer her like food not knowing that it’s not my cousin. The only one that she doesn’t appear too is my uncle. She has appeared to all my cousin’s and even my guy cousin, and my grandma and my nina, but she has not appeared to my uncle like at all.

CA: Why do you think that is?

SR: I don’t know maybe the way she died or I don’t know. 

CA: Is he the head of the house?

SR: Yeah, he is definitely the head of the house. 

CA: So he is the main male presence?

SR: Mhm

Context

SR is a 20 year old student who attends college of the canyons in Santa Clarita. This conversation took place over a casual FaceTime call where I asked her is she had any folklore I could use for the database. She comes from a Catholic Mexican household and has lived in Southern California her whole life. Also, many of her family live in Virginia and she visits there on occasion 

Analysis

This is a memorate surrounding a haunting of a house. The nonchalant attitude of those who lived in the house was surprising because most of the stories I have heard surrounding ghost stories have been meant to inspire fear. However, in this case the girl did not seem to be bothering anyone and it is something that had all gotten used to. It was a story that everyone involved believed to be true and did not find it a ludicrious notion that there was a spirit in their house. 

It is also interesting that the only person the girl has not appeared to it the male authority figure in the house. Thus, showing that she only appears selectively and that she may have animosity against males. 

Wearing Black for a Year After a Death

Piece

EA: You are supposed to mourn someone like your spouse, child, or like parent in like you wear all black for a year. If you don’t then there will be a public hanging of you, no. I mean that is like you don’t care type of thing. 

CA: Is this in Mexico? 

EA: Yeah in Mexico.

CA: Does anyone do it here [United States].

EA: Still like older people will do it here. Like I don’t know if you have seen tia [whose mother recently passed away] she is wearing all black. 

CA: Do they do it for as long?

EA: No, I think now they will do it for a shorter period of time, but I think people like tita [her mother] or like older people will do it for a longer period of time. I don’t know about a year. They will do like grays and black but they won’t put on like loud colors. It’s called el luto. Then also, you are not supposed to go to like a party, a dance, anything that is supposed to be happy and lively for a whole year. See like Papa Javier [husband’s father] didn’t come for your [my sister’s] quinceanera because his brother had just died and like none of his family came because of that reason because we were going to have a party and have music. It is frowned upon like if they come it is like, “did you see that he is here, his brother just died. I can’t believe it either.” The longer the time the better. I would say a good three to six months. I would say after six months maybe people won’t say anything anymore, but the older people will still say something. Especially if it is your spouse and you are like not, then you are talked about that like you didn’t care. 

CA: Is it the same for husbands and wives or is it more frowned upon for one or the other?

EA: Well, yeah most husbands will not do that for their wives. Women have to do it. I mean men, that is a good question it is probably really sexist because it is okay for a man to do it but it is not okay for a women to do it. 

Context

EA is my mother who was born in Southern California, but whose parents are both from Mexico. She and her whole family are Catholic. However, she is not as religious as the rest of her family. She is a Human Resources manager at a small manufacturing company in the San Fernando Valley. The information taken from a casual conversation I was having with my mother about any folklore she had for me while my sister was also present.

Analysis

The luto is an outward expression of grief and how much the loved one that passed away meant to you. This is why it is seen as so disrespectful to break the luto because it is a sign that you did not care about the death. Additionaly, the dark clothes and avoiding parties play on the sadness and loss surrounding death more than the celebration life. The person must have meant a lot to you if you are unable to really enjoy yourself after they are gone.

It would also potentially be a way to release your misery and give yourself a set amount of time to grieve, and after it marks the time when it is appropriate to move on and enjoy yourself without feeling bad about it. With the younger generation it is becoming a more personal decision about when people are ready to start moving on and enjoying themselves. However, this opens you up to more outside criticism and comparison. If everyone mourns the same amount there is no comparison between who has mourned a husband longer than another woman. 

Dia de Los Muertos Alter

Interviewer: So you were saying about Dia de Los Muertes?

SR: Yeah so Dia de Los Muertes is like a special thing for my family and I didn’t really know about it until I was 13. I think I turned 13 when someone in my family had recently past away and they were like “oh, let’s start this tradition again.” We had made the alter, “La Obra” that when we put like the pictues of like our dead one and like the belief about it is that you get to spend that one day with them and like their spirit comes and spends a moment in our home. It is kind of like comforting thing as they are like beign in the other world. I guess it is also guiding them in a way too. I heard that you put a glass of water out. It is for like their long trip walking and it is, you know stuff like that. Giving them and offering them and offering them the things they like here on earth. And it could be like traditionally like a shot of tequilla or a ban de muerto which is very traditional and then like their favorite food which could be like pozole or tacos honestly, but we keep those out because our belief is that they actually do come into our household or wherever the alter may be and they spend that moment with us here on earth. 

Interviewer: So do you only do it for those who have recently died? 

SR: No, we do it for everybody. So I have I want to say my great, great, great grandpa and from that generation on, like people we have pictures for. It could be anybody.

Interviewer: And who taught you about it and showed you how to do it?

SR: My mom, yeah I think my mom. It is because my grandpa is buried in Sacramento and since we live in {somewhere in Southern California}it is like a long trip right so they only way she feels connected to him for that one day. 

Context

SR is a 20 year old student who attends college of the canyons in Santa Clarita. This conversation took place over a casual FaceTime call when I asked her is she had any folklore I could use for the database. She comes from a Catholic Mexican household and has lived in Southern California her whole life. 

Analysis

This excerpt shows the connection Dia de Los Muertos offers to the people that practice it with their loved ones that have passed away. The tradition in SR’s household was not brought back until there was a more recent death and was a desire to connect with them. Despite being focused on keeping the connection with a more recently deceased family members there is an emphasis on including all the people you can. Her great, great, great grandfather is someone she would never have met, but still earned his place on her alter simply by being a part of her family. Thus, showing the importance of family in Mexican culture and seeing the value in staying connected with your anscestors after they have passed on. Additionally, doing it for much older members of your family better ensure that those that come after you will do the same for you long after you are gone. 

Showering After Funerals

NA: Um, also after funerals you have to take a shower. 

Interviewer: And this is everyone or just those who want to participate?

NA: And like some people will do to the extent that even when they get a phone call of someone dying they take a shower. 

Interviewer: Do you have any idea why or what it means?

NA: So my mom thinks it’s because in India like when you go to the funeral. You know here they like put preservatives and what not in the body. So there, there were no preservatives so there was a lot of bacteria and what not and so people were like, “oh my god, it is like on you” because you went to the funeral. Also, in India when you have the funeral they like they burn the body like in person. You know how here if you cremate, here it goes in a machine, but there they literally set fire to it and collect the ashes, so it is on you. So that also is why my mom thinks that you do it, but she is like not a hundred percent sure. She doesn’t know why people do it when you get the phone call, but I think it was like something that it was like every time you go to a funeral you have to shower and that was brought here and people just escalated it. 

Context 

NA is a 20 year old USC buisness student whose family is from India. She grew up in southern California and is still very connected with her Sindhi culture. She is also my roommate and I asked her about folklore she had related to her Indian background. This information was gathered from an informal interview conducted over Facetime.

Analysis

This ritual is about the right way to clean after a funeral or hearing of death. Potentially for both physical and emotional reasons. In India, there were likely practical purposes for showering from the smoke in the air from the burning of the body and the potential diseases carried in the body. However, it is significant the practice has remained after the practical necessity is no longer there. Furthermore, it is also practiced when only hearing about a death, therefore, there must be something more that keeps the practice alive. The showering may also be tied to “feeling dirty” after having an encounter with death. It may have started as a practical purpose, but has shifted to keep the practice alive. Potentially stemming from seeing death the body as impure and needing to regain that by washing yourself and changing your clothes.

It can also be a way of moving on after death. The funeral signifies the last goodbye to our loved ones and personal hygiene is likely to be neglected during the grieving process and funeral rights. After the rights are over, this can signify the need to start taking care of your own health and well-being again. 

Rocks on Gravestones

Context:

The subject is from Israel, and is a freshman at USC. Throughout my time of knowing him he has shared many jokes and proverbs that are specific to his home country. For this reason, I decided to interview him for the database.

 

Piece:

Subject: Something else, which I’m not sure is tied just to Jews or not, is we put rocks on gravestones. So instead of flowers, or chocolates, I don’t know, we put rocks there, like a pebble or a bigger one.

Interviewer: That’s really interesting, do you know why?

Subject: I think it’s just a symbol of strength and firmness, and that’s what we want our relationship with the person to be remembered as.

 

Analysis:

Upon further research, I’ve found that this is quite a common practice, although different cultures have different explanations as to why they carry it out. For thousands of years, people would place rocks on tombs in order to stop scavengers, or keep evil spirits out of the world. In addition, it would also be to stop the deceased from rising up.

In Jewish cultures, placing a stone or a pebble is customary, as a form of respect for the deceased, and to let them know that you have visited.

Mince and Tatties

Context:

I conducted this interview over the phone, the subject was born and raised in Scotland before moving to England, Canada, the United States, then to Northern Ireland, and, finally, back to the United States. I knew she continued to practice certain traditions which were heavily present in her childhood and wanted to ask her more about them.

 

Piece:

Subject: Every birthday in our house we always make mince and potatoes, or mince and tatties like we called them when I was a kid.

Interviewer: What does that consist of?

Subject: Well the way we do it is we ground beef, you know, mince beef, and then mashed potatoes and there you go! [Laughs] Sometimes we add vegetables like carrots or peas to go with it which really adds to the flavor.

Interviewer: And why has it become a birthday celebration?

Subject: I’m not sure, I mean we had it all the time growing up, but when we came to America we had it less and it became more of a birthday thing, so that’s just what we do every year now.

 

Analysis:

Upon further research, I’ve found that there is no set recipe or form of cooking this dish, it consists in many variations. There are concerns that British people are no longer eating traditional dishes, but mince and tatties remains the exception as it is extremely popular in Scotland. A survey done in 2009 found that it was the most popular Scottish dish, with a third of respondents saying that they eat it once a week.

In 2006 the European Union introduced new regulations on how meat could be processed, threatening the existence of mince and tatties, resulting in the Scottish National Party leader announcing, “They can take our lives but they will never take our freedom to make mince and tatties!”

It seems that it became a popular dish due to its ability to be canned and fed to a large number of school children.

Source:

Lewis, Susan. “Recipes for Reconnection: Older People’s Perspectives on the Mediating Role of Food in Contemporary Urban Society.” ANTHROPOLOGICAL NOTEBOOKS 12, 2006.

Persian Wedding Custom

Background: Lauren was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. Her parents are both Persian Jews, and Lauren considers herself Persian as well. She has lots of extended family in the area that she grew up in, so her family often has family events that she attends, including bar and bat mitzvahs as well as weddings.

Context: Lauren was telling me about a pre-wedding party that she recently attended for her first cousin. I called Lauren on the phone since she attends university in Florida and recorded our conversation. I have transcribed what she said over the phone below.

“So there’s two names for this wedding tradition. Goleh baleh* or shironim khanom**. Goleh means flower and baleh means yes. Shironim means sweet. It’s a party it’s one of the first parties that happens when a couple gets engaged. It’s thrown by the bride’s family. At this party there’s a table full of sweets, sterling silver, flowers and a crystal that’s called leelac. That chrystal is supposed to be very expensive. It’s basically bringing in the sweetness of course of a marriage and the combining of two families and it’s usually a very big party. It’s the first time the couple is there together. I learned this tradition from  my family because last April my cousin Natalie got exchanged and her parents threw a shironim khanom. I just remember the entire party there was just fresh pastries, crepes, flowers… people send hundreds of flowers. My aunt’s house, everywhere there was flowers it was just beautiful. Everywhere there were silver plates…just gorgeous. Since I’m so close to her I didn’t really get to enjoy the food because I was dancing the whole night. One thing that we do that I really love that we do at most of the parties is we get fresh flowers and there’s a song that is sung and during that song, during the chorus everyone throws the flowers up at the bride and the groom, and the bride and groom are supposed to kiss at that time. It was my first time really seeing all that happen and it was really pretty and magical. I don’t know the song of the song… I know the melody but I’m gonna botch the words. The flowers are normally light colored flowers, typically white roses. Always light colors, never a dark color. White or light pink. At my cousin’s shironim, there was some jewelry given to her like close family came early and jeweled her up I guess? She wore no jewelry at the beginning and before the party started each of the grandmas gave her a piece of jewelry and then her parent, and then the grooms side of the family. They put the jewelry on her and then she wears it for the party and the rest of the night. Usually it’s not during the party, it’s before, just for close family and friends because… I don’t know my dad doesn’t really like it, it’s not very humble. Usually it’s just close family and friends. She wears the jewelry for the rest of the night though. Jewelry is given to the bride and the groom, usually the parents of the bride and groom, the grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and if there’s even more jewelry then cousins, first cousins. No specific type of jewelry, usually just anything. Persians have this thing where you give married people emeralds, and older women will wear emeralds to the party if they are close to the bride. My mom wore emeralds to this party and the wedding, like emerald necklaces, earrings, rings. The groom’s mom wore emeralds. Something that has emeralds in it- once you’re married you’re given a lot of emeralds for some reason.”

 

*goleh baleh

How it’s pronounced: goh-leh bah-leh

**shironim khanom

How it’s pronounced: sheer-oo-neem khah-nohm

The Great Norwegian Graduation Rager

“So in Norway, when we graduate high school, we have this tradition that the two weeks leading up to our, um, independence day, um, we essentially do college in two weeks. And by that we, uh, everyone essentially has like a startup company where they fund, they get money and they work and they buy a bus. And this bus is to represent a group of people that have together to party on this bus for these two coming weeks. You build this bus to represent you as a group. So you paint it, you have your own song. They usually spend about twenty to forty thousand dollars on these buses. And they pay a couple to three thousand dollars per song or more. People live off this shit. They graduate high school and they just make music for these crazy graduating students. And they have a pretty decent life. Umm, so what you do is you do this and then you buy a suit, you buy like overalls that are completely red and covered in the Norwegian flag, and it’s got different colors. That’s the only time that you’ll ever see these colors in Norway which is why I find it so baffling that people in America keep wearing and wearing their flag everywhere. I guess it’s like weird, it’s like nationalism, which is bad, but for these two weeks in Norway: totally cool. So everyone gets drunk, everyone has sex with each other, there’s a bunch of STD things going on and like a lot of people take precautions so there’s just condoms everywhere in the capital for those two weeks, literally just so that teenagers can just grab them passing by. They’ll be in like metro stations, bus stops, random places there’ll just be like a little cup of condoms because people are just like doing things all the time. So there’s a lot of drugs, a lot of drinking, and you kinda like, you do all of those, you get all your immaturity out. That’s the whole point of it. So by the time you have your independence day, everyone’s so fucking exhausted that when you actually celebrate the day  that you celebrate Independence Day  and that you celebrate your graduation, then finals happen. Afterwards. So it’s a big thing in Norway where people have been trying to get the finals to happen before these two weeks. Because what happens is a lot of, like,  not a lot, but  maybe one out  of twenty people failed their finals because of this tradition. Every year. So they’re trying to change that now. I think it’s going to change this year, but the fact that the government, that all entire Norway works around this insane tradition: just get fucked up and have sex for two weeks? It’s fucking fantastic.”

 

The source definitely looked upon this tradition with a lot of happiness. It seemed to be one of his favorite parts of high school. He said it’s not a very long-standing tradition, but that it’s definitely been around as long as he’s been alive. He says it’s a way for them to release all the pent up stress from the year. It allows them to let loose and do crazy things that, under other circumstances, wouldn’t be allowed.

This tradition seems to come with its own sort of hall pass. It sounds like the kind of thing that these kids would never get away with if only there weren’t so many of them participating in it. That’s probably how it came about in the first place. Some group of kids wanted to let loose, but they knew they’d get in trouble, so they got a whole bunch of people together and went nuts. It probably didn’t fly as much back when it started, but now that it’s mainstream, the whole country probably knows to expect this debauchery and just lets it slide.

What also makes it interesting is that it involves a lot of responsibility. It’s almost like a rite of passage, really, because these kids have to work and save up money in order to be able to afford this massive, two-week rager. They also need to plan and organize it all themselves. Basically, they’re doing very adult things in order to be able to do some very not adult things. Quite the contrast.

Sitting Shiva

The informant is a 20-year old Jewish student attending USC. She was born in Venezuela but has lived in Miami since she was eight years old. She is majoring in Engineering. The information she shared with me is about Jewish funeral custom.

 

Informant: “Everyone goes to the funeral home or the synagogue, or wherever the funeral is taking place. There is a service; the Rabbi says some prayers in Hebrew and in English and some kind words about the deceased. Then usually some family members will speak about the person who has passed.”

 

Interviewer: “What kind of stuff do they say?”

 

Informant: “Well it varies. Sometimes they will talk about the person’s accomplishments, sometimes they will tell funny stories about the person, or their fondest memories with them. I was at a funeral about a month ago where one of the deceased’s grandchildren read a portion of a school project she had written about her grandma when she was a kid. She had interviewed her grandma for the project. It was really cool.”

 

Interviewer: “That sounds really cool. What happens next?”

 

Informant: “Well, everyone goes outside where the burial takes place. I don’t know if it is Jewish tradition everywhere, but at least at the weddings I’ve been to, there are shovels around the burial site, and everyone who wants to can shovel some earth onto the grave. It’s really beautiful. Then there is a shiva.

 

Interviewer: “What’s the shiva?”

 

Informant: “The shiva is when everyone—the family and friends of the deceased’s family—goes to someone close to the person who has passed’s house. There is lots of food and drink (usually non-alcoholic though) and people eat and talk. It’s a big gathering as a sort of celebration of the person’s life and as a way to comfort the family.”

 

Thoughts:

Often rituals surrounding death double as celebrations of life and a reason for social gathering. Death is a rite of passage and like other rite of passage rituals, it is a rite of transition, mainly for the family and friends of the deceased. The shivas I’ve been to aren’t typically sad events. The funeral itself is generally a somber, teary-eyed event, but shivas I’ve attended often involve a lot of conversing and even a good-deal of joke-telling.

Day of the Dead in Mexico

Day of the Dead

 

The informant is a 19-year old student attending USC. She was born in Avellino, and has lived in central Mexico, London, and Italy in her life. She speaks Italian, Spanish, and English and is majoring in architecture. The following is what she shared with me about Day of the Dead from when she lived in Mexico for 6 years.

 

Informant: “In Mexico there was the Day of the Dead.”

Interviewer: “How do they celebrate it?”

Informant: “They made like alters with food, and they have it out for the dead. There are a certain amount of days it goes on.

Interviewer: “Did you have any friends who celebrated it?”

Informant: “Yes, but we did it at school too. We did the sugar skulls.”

Interviewer: “What’s a sugar skull?”

Informant: “It’s a skull made out of sugar. [Laughs]. You just bought them at the supermarket. You could decorate them yourself.

Interviewer: “What is Day of the Dead about?”

Informant: “To celebrate the Dead! The people that have passed on come back to life at night.”

Interviewer: “is it scary? Like are the dead perceived as bad?”

Informant: “No, it’s good. They are good spirits.”

 

Thoughts:

Day of the Dead is a pretty well known and considerably popularized holiday. It was interesting to hear how indifferently the informant was about Day of the Dead and the customs around it. Perhaps having lived in a culture where the dead aren’t perceived as “bad” or as haunting makes the whole notion of dead coming back to life something casual.

Talking to the informant about how Day of the Dead was celebrated in Mexico reminds me a lot of talking to Israeli soldiers when I was in Israel this summer about bar and bat mitzvahs in Israel. One might think that Jewish rituals would be more extreme or that people would be more devout in a Jewish state, but in fact, it seemed the opposite. All of us American-Jews were surprised to find out that for the Israeli soldiers we talked to, bar and bat mitzvahs (Jewish coming of age ritual) were just parties for the bar or bat mitzvah and his or her friends as opposed to the religiously-heightened ritual they are typically performed in the United States.